Journalist Peter Winants dies

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Peter Winants, a man who loved sport, sporting literature and art, died May 18, following a long illness. He was 82.

Mr. Winants, of Rectortown, Va., was born in Baltimore, Md., July 21, 1926, son of Garet Winants and Frances Leigh Bonsal Winants. His father died when he was age 5, and his mother later married renowned Maryland horseman, S. Bryce Wing.

Mr. Winants grew up immersed in Maryland’s sporting community. As a boy, he witnessed the match race at Pimlico Race Course between Seabiscuit and War Admiral in 1938. He foxhunted with the Elkridge-Harford Hunt in Baltimore County and rode in amateur steeplechase meets. 

Mr. Winants attended Princeton University where he befriended the late George L. Ohrstrom Jr., who later became the owner of The Chronicle of the Horse. Mr. Winants served in the Army during World War II and later during the Korean War.

In 1956, Mr. Winants was married to Rosemary Margaret Winants until her death in 2002. They had four children, and two of their sons, Peter Winants Jr. and Garet “Woods” Winants became amateur steeplechase riders.

After the Korean War, he bought a store in Baltimore with his brother, the late Garet Winants, and also became interested in photography. He started out doing portraits and weddings, but turned to his true love of photographing all things equine. His horse racing and steeplechasing photographs were famous for capturing the action like never before, using telephoto lenses, according to award-winning photographer, Douglas Lees. “He was so good about encouraging people,” said Lees, who remarked on Mr. Winants loaning him an expensive telephoto lens when he was beginning his own career.

Mr. Winants freelanced for The Maryland Horse covering events and photographing stallions at breeding farms for advertisements. He followed the remarkable steeplechase horse, Jay Trump, and his career with his camera as the rags-to-riches horse won the English Grand National and the Maryland Hunt Cup. On the return from England, Mr. Winants wrote an article on Jay Trump which The Maryland Horse published, thus branching out into journalism. In 1966 he published his first book Jay Trump: A Steeplechasing Saga.

In 1972, Mr. Winants was hired as editorial assistant at The Chronicle of the Horse, and in 1975, George Ohrstrom named him publisher/editor. Mr. Winants updated the weekly equestrian publication, while still also writing, editing, and photographing. He published his second book through The Chronicle in 1988, Flatterer: A Story of a Steeplechase Champion.

In 1991, Mr. Winants was named director of the National Sporting Library. During his tenure, the library acquired two major collections, the John H. and Martha Daniels collection of 5,000 sporting books, and the von Hünersdorf collection of 16th to 19th century equestrian books. In the mid-1990s, plans were made and carried out to construct a new building to house the NSL’s growing collection. In 1998, he retired as director of the NSL. Mr. Winants served on the board of directors of the NSL 1991-2005, then honorary director until his death.

Nancy Parsons, President and CEO of the National Sporting Library, said, “Peter Winants embodied in his life much of what the library represents. A scholar and author on subjects such as foxhunting, steeplechasing and sporting art, Peter was passionate about country life and field sports. As the former director of the library, Peter played an integral role in the development and growth of the organization and his leadership continued through his service on the Board. He was a fine gentleman, a respected colleague and a dear friend.”

In 2003, he was married to Mary Weeden Winants who shared his love of horses and foxhunting. Together, they bought their home Sunnyside Farm in Rectortown, Va.

At the Maryland Hunt Cup, May 25, Mr. Winants received the prestigious S. Bryce Wing Award for his extraordinary contributions to the sport of American steeplechasing.

Mr. Winants is survived by his wife of six years Mary Weeden Winants, of Rectortown, Va., his children Jennifer Rose, Crested Butte, Colo., Bryce W. Winants, Sherando, Va., Peter Winants Jr., Bluemont, Va., and Garet “Woods” Winants, Middleburg, Va., and six grandchildren. Memorial contributions may be made to the Piedmont Environmental Council, or a charitable organization of choice. Funeral services and burial will be private.

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A memorial reception will be held Tuesday, May 26 from 1-4 p.m. at the National Sporting Library at 102 The Plains Rd., in Middleburg, Va.